3 minute read

Seeking sustainability in the restaurant industry

By Eric Nomis

Restaurant businesses can improve with, profit from achievable, customerdesired initiatives

Sustainability initiatives in the restaurant are becoming more important for consumers, and potentially more profitable for restaurants. The environmental sustainability profile of a restaurant is becoming more critical, says a report by Rabobank, Sustainability in Foodservice. In previous years, consumers gave restaurants credit for a lack of unethical practices or scandals. Today, that expectation is different. Restaurants need to respond to consumers growing interest in good Earth stewardship.

Small and medium-sized independent restaurants have an advantage in sourcing local foods.
Photo by Hannah Busing.

As a way to engage consumers, restaurants with a robust sustainability program can achieve the following:

• Attract customers • Improve brand perception • Increase employee engagement • Increase marketing opportunities • Improve community relations

And, from a business perspective, restaurants can expect to

• Increase employee engagement • Reduce operating costs • Decrease reputational risk • Drive innovation

In terms of sourcing, restaurants are working with farmers and suppliers that are commitment to more humane treatment of animals and a reduced carbon footprint. Many consumers prefer local foods. Here, independent restaurants have an advantage. Local sourcing is better-suited to restaurant companies with just a few restaurants. Sourcing within the local economy may help allocate more of a restaurant’s funds to regional provider businesses and support local jobs. Emilie’s, the latest grand eatery from the talented Chef Kevin Tien, has announced that it will source as many ingredients as it can from local farmers and suppliers.

More consumers are interested in the humane treatment of animals and clean-label foods. As a result, with regard to meats, sustainability adoption can mean providing chickens raised without antibiotics. Also, to get more sustainability credit with consumers, restaurants can feature dishes with cage-free eggs. Grassfed beef on menus is also trending. These are important initiatives that reflect good animal stewardship and that customers care about.

Consumers expect restaurants to prioritize sustainability initiatives in menu development.
Photo by Louis Hansel.

Sustainability in design is an initiative restaurants are embracing and should become part of the planning of every new restaurant. Furthermore, independent restaurants can retrofit many of these ideas. According to Rabobank, “Reducing operating costs while having a positive environmental impact ought to be a major driver for restaurants to improve their energy consumption. Some obvious efficiency opportunities include LED lighting retrofits, Energy Star/efficient appliance upgrades, motion sensors, low-flow water fixtures, rainwater harvesting, and upgrading heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.”

LEED certification is an initiative that larger chains have been moving the needle on. Wendy’s, for example, has challenged to increase the efficiency of its buildings by 20 percent by the year 2025. Yum Brands, parent of KFC and Taco Bell, has built more than 30 LEED-certified buildings around the globe, notes Rabobank.

According to D.C. Refined, Urbana in Dupont Circle is a restaurant that should be spotlighted for its sustainable practices: “They recently started using a food waste technology called the Bio-Digester, which converts food scraps into grey wastewater that is then safely transported for treatment via existing drain systems; they are the first D.C. restaurant to use this new food waste technology. In addition, the restaurant uses nearly 100 percent of its rooftop vegetables for its chef tasting table menu, known as Cichetti at Urbana.

Another way to operate more sustainable restaurants is to reduce the carbon footprint of the restaurant. What are practices that use fossil-fuel, pollute the environment or increase non-compostable waste? Restaurants that deliver their own food can use bike couriers or sign on to services that hire bicycle couriers. Can restaurants cut down on the number of deliveries from suppliers each week? “Some restaurants use recycled cooking oil for biodiesel for their delivery fleet,” notes the Robabank report. “ Newer generations of food trucks run on renewable energy and can be certified as Zero-Emission Vehicles.”

There’s a lot to consider and strategize in this realm. Rabobank also illustrates ways restaurants can reduce food waste and use packaging to become more eco-friendly. But those are additional ideas we’ll cover in our next issue.